Infighting Overshadows Big Plans at The Washington Post

When Sally Buzbee joined The Washington Post a yr in the past this month, she took over a newsroom that had almost doubled to greater than 1,000 journalists beneath the possession of Jeff Bezos, who purchased it in 2013. Its protection recurrently gained Pulitzer Prizes.

The newspaper has continued rising within the months since. It has opened breaking information hubs in Seoul and London to turn out to be extra of a 24-hour world operation. It expanded protection of expertise, local weather and private well being. Its reporting gained the Pulitzer Prize for public service this yr.

But Ms. Buzbee is now on the defensive, but to utterly win over the newsroom and dealing with inner strife that has eclipsed a few of her daring plans.

Internal frustration with Ms. Buzbee has spilled into public view. Much of it resulted from two social media storms – one which led to a reporter getting fired, and one other that led to accusations {that a} function editor’s promotion was unfairly rescinded. Many journalists at the newspaper say the issues resulted from an outdated coverage on how staff ought to conduct themselves on-line, and a star system that has led to uneven enforcement of that coverage. Ms. Buzbee launched a draft of a brand new social media coverage on Wednesday.

Some within the newsroom additionally really feel that Ms. Buzbee has not made a precedence of assembly with the rank-and-file to handle these frustrations. Other employees have chafed over her return-to-office necessities, and tensions have flared between the nationwide and metro reporting groups.

In a contentious assembly final week, some employees members instructed Ms. Buzbee that she had not but earned their belief, based on a number of individuals amongst dozens in attendance. Margaret Sullivan, the newspaper’s media columnist, instructed Ms. Buzbee in that assembly that rescinding the function editor’s promotion would unfairly harm his profession. Many others spoke up with the same sentiment.

In one other assembly with Ms. Buzbee, on Tuesday, one editor relayed considerations from his employees that being promoted to an editor position appeared an unappetizing prospect at The Post. Ms. Buzbee responded with an impassioned speech about how an editor’s job was to assist individuals do nice work and advance of their careers, based on an individual at the assembly.

The sentiment about Ms. Buzbee, and particulars concerning the conferences, had been conveyed in interviews by greater than two dozen present and former Post employees members. They spoke on the situation of anonymity to explain the newsroom’s internal workings.

Many of the individuals famous that a few of the considerations predate Ms. Buzbee’s arrival. They additionally mentioned that her arrival in the course of the pandemic, with most individuals working remotely, has made her job harder. Ms. Buzbee has gained many mates in The Washington Post newsroom, they mentioned. Numerous influential reporters tweeted in unison final week in help of the newspaper’s path.

Fred Ryan, The Post’s writer, expressed help for Ms. Buzbee, saying in an announcement that “Sally has exceeded all expectations in her first yr.”

But the current tumult has distracted Ms. Buzbee and a newsroom that has stood out as one of many few to efficiently navigate the treacherous economics of contemporary media.

Cameron Barr, The Post’s senior managing editor, mentioned in an interview {that a} lack of readability across the firm’s social media insurance policies was partly responsible for the current tumult.

“Social media on this context is mostly a proxy for newsroom tradition,” he mentioned. Barr mentioned. “We need to work to shore up a way of belief and civility inside our newsroom,” he added.

He disputed characterizations of Ms. Buzbee as unavailable to people who find themselves not stars. “She could be very accessible,” he mentioned. “She could be very passionate about what we do.”

Ms. Buzbee declined to remark for this text.

Ms. Buzbee, 57, joined The Post in June 2021, turning into the primary feminine government editor in its 145-year historical past. She had spent her profession at The Associated Press, most not too long ago serving as government editor. She changed Martin Baron, who remade the newsroom over eight years to a lot acclaim, together with 10 Pulitzer Prizes.

Ms. Buzbee resembles Mr. Baron in her method to tales and has sturdy information judgment, based on quite a few reporters who’ve labored carefully together with her. The reporters praised how she dealt with sophisticated tales.

Ms. Buzbee has a special administration fashion from Mr. Baron, although. While he was broadly considered a top-down chief, Ms. Buzbee is named somebody who listens to everybody within the room earlier than making selections. She holds extra conferences with senior editors and reporters than Mr. Baron did, individuals at The Post say.

Ms. Buzbee has instructed all newsroom staff that they have to work within the workplace at least three days every week. She has highlighted the advantages of collaborating in particular person fairly than punishing anybody for not coming in.

That return-to-office plan has upset some staff. At least two individuals who left the newspaper not too long ago mentioned – one publicly, on Twitter, and one other in an interview – that the coverage had been a significant factor of their determination to depart. Some have been reluctant to observe the coverage, main Ms. Buzbee to induce managers to remind their staff to return into the workplace.

There has additionally been friction between the metro and nationwide reporting desks. In a gathering final yr, the metro employees raised considerations to Ms. Buzbee that they’d not been adequately concerned in a challenge reconstructing the occasions of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, based on a number of individuals there.

The challenge, assigned earlier than Ms. Buzbee joined, was run by the nationwide desk. That pissed off some reporters on the metro desk, who had extensively coated the occasion because it unfolded. Ms. Buzbee agreed that the metro reporters ought to have performed an even bigger position within the challenge, which ran after she took over.

The Post in the end submitted many tales from the metro employees, in addition to the reconstruction challenge, within the package deal about Jan. 6 that gained the Pulitzer for public service. A Post spokeswoman mentioned the metro entries had been included earlier than the assembly with Ms. Buzbee was requested.

Ms. Buzbee inherited a coverage about how Post journalists ought to behave on-line that reporters and editors had repeatedly mentioned was too imprecise and inconsistently enforced. Mr. Baron confronted related tensions beneath his tenure, together with a conflict with a star reporter, Wesley Lowery. Mr. Mr. Baron threatened to fireplace. Lowery for violations of The Post’s social media coverage, together with expressing political beliefs and criticizing opponents, based on a replica of a disciplinary letter.

A memo ready by the nationwide employees in 2020 advisable that the coverage be overhauled to redefine the newsroom’s objective on social media, acknowledge the abuse journalists obtain on-line and create a extra clear enforcement course of.

Ms. Buzbee instructed folks that she deliberate to rent requirements editors who would replace that coverage. The particular person Ms. Buzbee promoted to supervise the requirements crew in March hadn’t but crammed these positions when the inner frustrations not too long ago erupted on Twitter.

Much of the infighting started after David Weigel, a politics reporter, retweeted a sexist and homophobic joke. In response, Felicia Sonmez, one other political reporter at The Post, tweeted: “Fantastic to work at a information outlet the place retweets like this are allowed!”

Mr. Weigel shortly deleted his tweet and apologized. Several days later, with a number of employees members preventing about his actions on-line, Ms. Buzbee suspended him for a month. In emails, she implored Post journalists to be collegial. After an worker replied to everybody in help of Ms. Sonmez, The Post minimize off the power for employees members to reply-all in a newsroom-wide electronic mail, based on an individual with information of the choice.

But Ms. Sonmez, who had accused The Post of a hostile work surroundings in a lawsuit {that a} decide dismissed in March, by no means stopped tweeting. She mentioned the newspaper inconsistently punished journalists for what they wrote on Twitter, and critiqued her co-workers publicly.

Mr. Ryan and Ms. Buzbee agreed that the one possibility was to fireplace her, based on an individual with information of the dialogue. They met with prime editors to speak by way of the choice. Some steered different choices, together with a suspension. Eventually, there was a broad settlement that Ms. Sonmez needed to go, the particular person mentioned.

Ms. Buzbee deliberate to fireplace Ms. Sonmez the following night, June 9, the particular person mentioned. But after Ms. Sonmez tweeted early the following morning, the timeline moved up a couple of hours. The termination letter despatched by The Post accused her of “insubordination, maligning your co-workers on-line and violating The Post’s requirements on office collegiality and inclusivity.”

Less than an hour later, Ms. Buzbee met with the options division to quell one other social media flare-up.

Taylor Lorenz, a expertise reporter lured to The Post from The New York Times this yr, had tweeted {that a} miscommunication together with her editor led to an inaccurate line in an article. The tweets had been mentioned and agreed on by Ms. Lorenz and a number of editors earlier than she posted, mentioned three individuals with information of the discussions. The tweets prompted an outcry from critics on Twitter who accused her of passing the buck.

Before Ms. Lorenz’s tweet, Ms. Buzbee had provided the well-respected editor, David Malitz, a promotion to run the options division, based on one particular person with information of the provide. He had agreed to take it. But a number of days later, Ms. Buzbee pulled the provide.

In the assembly with the options group, Ms. Buzbee fielded offended questions on Mr. Malitz’s therapy. She mentioned he was “on no account reprimanded or punished for any errors,” based on a replica of notes taken at the assembly, however wouldn’t say what was behind her determination. She mentioned she could not speak about personnel points.

It was at that assembly that Ms. Sullivan, The Post’s media columnist, accused Ms. Buzbee of damaging Mr. Malitz’s profession, and different employees members mentioned she hadn’t earned their belief. Some instructed Ms. Buzbee that their doubts stemmed from hardly ever listening to from her till that assembly.

On Tuesday, Ms. Buzbee met with dozens of editors in particular person and over video convention, fielding questions concerning the current upheaval. One editor relayed the considerations from staff who had been cautious of turning into editors at The Post after current occasions.

Ms. Buzbee mentioned within the assembly that she was optimistic about the way forward for the newspaper. She additionally instructed editors that it was their collective duty to guard the employees, the readers and the newspaper’s credibility.

On Wednesday night, newsroom staff had been emailed a draft of up to date social media tips and instructed that senior editors would maintain “listening periods” this week to get suggestions on the revisions.

The draft says that no worker is required to put up or interact on social media platforms; journalists should not hurt the integrity or popularity of the newsroom; and journalists are “allowed and inspired to convey their full identification and lived experiences to their social accounts.”

The draft tips additionally observe that The Post considers it as a precedence to guard its journalists from on-line harassment and assaults.

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